Every now and then I like to bring another voice into the classroom. The students have their say, I have my say, and the assigned reading has its say. A guest speaker can be a nice way to shake up this routine, and video now makes it easy to bring guest speakers to class.
One of the difficulties I have in implementing these video guest presenters involves engaging the students in thinking about the video while it is playing. Often they see the videos as an opportunity to catch-up on sleep or on social media. I want them as intently engaged in those presentations as if it were me speaking to them. Granted, when I speak, students may be just as disengaged, but when it's me speaking I have students gather in groups and discuss questions related to what I've just said. Most students don't want to incorrectly answer a question in front of the entire class, which they can avoid by engaging with each other in small group discussions of the questions.
So, how do I accomplish that same level of engagement with a class video when the classroom lights are down and the social media temptation is greatest? This term I tried a special in-class assignment using two different collaboration tools—Google Docs and wikis—with one more successful than the other. Although both have been discussed in Faculty Focus and previous issues of the Teaching Professor newsletter, I have not read of anything in which online word processing is used during in-class viewing of video.
My approach is to prepare a set of questions, either in a wiki or in Google Docs, that students will be able to answer by paying careful attention to the video presentation. I then make electronic copies of the wiki or Google Doc and share them with the small groups I've formed in the class. I send an email out the day before showing the video asking students to bring their laptop or tablet to class for an assignment they'll complete during class. Before showing the video, students gather into their groups, look at the questions, and decide how they will approach answering them. I explain that if they pay careful attention to the video, they'll be able to answer the questions. I end my comments by saying that there's a friendly competition involved with this activity. At the end of the video, students are given the chance to view each group's answers and then vote for the group that's produced the best learning resource, which cannot be their own group. I typically offer a sweet treat as the winning prize.
The first time I tried this, I was very impressed with the level of activity during the video. Students were intently listening to the “guest speaker” and I could hear the quiet tapping of keyboards. When I went online during the class to observe their work, students were asking each other questions and helping one another compose answers. There were a couple of groups that were having some difficulties with the questions. But because it was a shared document, I was able to type some nudges about what they might consider in their answer. When the video was over, I was surprised that students continued to type. With 10 minutes left in the class I finally had to ask them to stop so that they could view each group's work and vote for the one they thought was best. To my surprise there was a clear winner. More than that, students indicated afterwards that they appreciated the exercise because it kept them engaged in the video and they found the sharing of the online questions and answers helpful to their thinking and processing of the ideas presented by the speaker on the video.
Although I have used both wikis and Google Docs to conduct this activity, I've come to have a strong preference for Google Docs because it allows students in the group to simultaneously type and contribute to any answer in the document. The wiki, in contrast only allows one person at a time to edit a section of the document (in this case, answer to a question) and this is only if the questions are setup as sections or subtopics in the wiki.
So now I have a way to engage students in silent discussion during the viewing of a video. It doesn't have the same energetic atmosphere as when the class is working on a question I pose during class, but it does markedly raise their level of engagement.
Neil Haave, Augustana Faculty, University of Alberta, email@example.com.